Discover 5 Best Hiking Trails in Southeast Asia
By Aline Gollin
People often think of Southeast Asia as a region packed with temples, food markets, and golden, sandy beaches; rarely does it get credit for its impressive trekking or hiking trails. But little do travelers know that aside from the usual tourist spots, Southeast Asia is also home to a litany of lush rainforests, beautiful, natural landscapes, and challenging trails that adventure-seekers will be delighted to visit.
As noted by Caitlin Evans in a previous post, beginners may be apprehensive about taking the journey to Southeast Asia’s best mountains for fear of the unknown, but once you learn more about what each one has to offer, you won’t have trouble booking that trip. Lo and behold, here are the best hiking trails in Southeast Asia worth checking out
Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar
Those who want peace and serenity will find a 2-day hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake to be a healing experience. Situated on the Western Shan State of Myanmar, Kalaw is an idyllic town known for its refreshing climate and awe-inspiring views, as well as its status as Myanmar’s trekking mecca. While the area offers a variety of options of adventure, its hiking trail is what reels people in, and it’s mostly because of the unparalleled tranquility it brings.
Kalaw is an old-world paradise, devoid of the political turmoils and frustrations found elsewhere in Myanmar. A brief stroll alone will already grant you views of beautiful hills and flower-lined streets and a chance to witness the lives of the local hill tribes. And sure, the trek to Inle Lake is long, it’s not particularly difficult. The only thing that can prove to be a challenge is figuring out the correct trail as there is barely any signage around. It would be best to hire a guide to do the trek with you if it’s your first time.
Tana Toraja, Indonesia
Indonesia is primarily known for Bali, a province that is beset with beautiful beaches, iconic rice paddies, and tons of resort towns, making it a hotspot for tourists. Of course, there is so much more to the country than these usual tourist destinations. For adventurers seeking an enriching experience, Daydreaming in Paradise details how the Tana Toraja is a hidden gem that encapsulates Indonesia’s robust culture. Home to the ethnic group Torajans, it’s culture-rich, since they are able to continue practicing their culture and live autonomously in their village despite being integrated with modern society and technology. It’s also surrounded by mountains, so it’s an ideal place for treks and hikes as well.
An ideal trip to Tana Toraja spans a few days to give yourself time to immerse yourself in the local culture. It’s even recommended that you stay with a local family, ideally in a traditional house in a remote mountain village to get the full experience. As for hiking, it would be best to go on a multi-hike tour so you can enjoy the Sa’ dan river, scenic views of Pala’ Tokke’, and see the hanging graves with your own two eyes.
Sapa Mountains, Vietnam
The experience of trekking in Sapa Mountains is part of many a traveler’s Vietnam bucket lists. Tucked away from the rest of Vietnam’s tourist trail, it features some steep mountains and is climatically different compared to the rest of the country. If you’re going to Hanoi, you might as well take the time to make a side trip to appreciate the beautiful scenery it has to offer.
Whether you’re in the area for only a day or for an extended period, there’s a trail option for you. A Trains Planes and Tuktuks article notes that the shortest treks in Sapa last only a day, as you’ll stay firmly on the beaten path. It would be better if you opted for a longer trek to reach trails that only a few visitors reach, but the tradeoff is it’s more expensive and involves more logistical complications. Still, you’ll still get to witness a variety of hill tribe cultures, sweeping views of the entire Hoang Lien Son mountain range, picturesque rice terraces, and so much more.
Heading south from the Sapa town center, you’ll get some nice views of the downtown area before you hit the trails. It’s a short hike through an agricultural area to the first main viewpoint, and one of the best on the trek. You’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the entire Hoang Lien Son mountain range and surrounding rice terraces. Definitely a worthy inclusion within the Best Hiking Trails in Southeast Asia.
Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
This list wouldn’t be complete without the mention of the ever-famous Mount Kinabalu, which just so happens to be the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago and Malaysia. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s known for its rich and diverse ecology, surrounded by a lush rainforest boasting plant and animal species you can’t see anywhere else, like orangutans and stinking corpse lilies unique to the region.
Adventurers who want to challenge themselves must be prepared to allot two days and ensure that they are of sound fitness to withstand the difficult hike. You can take your pick between two trails to the Low’s Peak summit: the Ranau Trail or Kota Belud Trail. But given how popular this mountain is, you have to book days in advance since only 135 climbing permits are allowed each day.
Mount Pulag, Philippines
This mountain isn’t nicknamed the “playground of the gods” for nothing. Famous for being a spiritual place, Mount Pulag is where North Luzon’s ethnic tribes bury their dead and believe spirits come to rest. Even though it’s Luzon’s highest peak, standing at a height of 2,926 meters above sea level, it’s not as challenging a hike compared to other mountains, but what draws mountaineers of all skill sets is its unique ability to make you feel like you’re amongst fluffy clouds when you reach the top.
Mount Pulag is also popular for sights that will take your breath away. Here you’ll see vast, montane forests, endemic dwarf bamboo plants, golden grasslands, and endangered flora and fauna. The hike will take you two days with two trails of varying levels of difficulty, but even newbie mountaineers will find that it’s a relatively easy and laidback climb.
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